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How Can I Help? Talking to Kids about Bullying and Their Emotions

October 21, 2016 1:59 PM with Dr. Benjamin Shain

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Parents can’t be with their children every second of the day, and it’s hard not to worry about how they’re getting along with others at school and online. 1 in 4 kids experience bullying, and it effects everything; social life, self-esteem, school work and emotions. For some, this includes the risk of suicide. What can parents do? If you’re in need of some guidance, join Dr. Benjamin Shain, Division Head of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NorthShore, for a chat on talking to your children about bullying and its effects. He’ll provide insight on the signs, what you can do to help, addressing teen suicide and what resources you can use to get your child the best help possible.

Kathryn (Moderator) - 2:00 PM:
Our chat on bullying and its impact is now open. You can submit questions at any time during this chat.

  Sandie (Arlington Heights, IL) - 2:01 PM:
I have worked with many children who have been bullied. One question that arises with parents: how do you protect children who are bullied when reporting, as the bully can make things worse for that child when an adult is not around?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Excellent question. That is something that adult responders, such as parents and teachers, should be cognizant of. One approach is to advise the child rather than interceding directly with the bully. Often, a more direct response is indicated. If so, be aware that the child needs to be watched for retaliation with appropriate consequences for the bully should that occur.

  Hilda (Chicago, IL) - 2:05 PM:
When it comes to my child, would it be better to have his older sibling discuss how he dealt with bullying, rather than me, his mother? Would my child be more receptive to their comments and suggestions than mine?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
That depends on the relationship he has with his older siblings and their ability to articulate appropriate advice. If these are positive, then he could be more receptive than hearing it from an adult.

  Singlemom (Momville, IL) - 2:08 PM:
Currently, my daughter is in preschool and has had an issue with how the big kids would not play with her because she is only 3 years old. She is in a 3-5 year classroom, and she tells me from time to time that kids make fun of her. I am not sure what to say to her because I know in time this will all pass. However; I want her to be confident but don't know the right words to tell her. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Mostly listen to her and encourage her to vent to the extent she can verbalize. Praise her for the things she has done well. Let her know that she will be a "big kid" soon and will then be able to do what they do now.

  Michelle (Des Plaines, IL) - 2:13 PM:
My son is a first grader and his school has taught him about bullying and being aware of it a lot this year. But now he has started blaming everything that happens to him at school on someone bullying him. I don't know whether to believe him or not. He cannot give me specific details of a situation; only that a bully did this or a bully did that to him. So my question is, are schools focusing too much on bullying, that it could be making my son use it as an excuse to excuse his own behavior?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
That is an excellent point. I do not think that schools focus too much on bullying, as this is an important problem. However, the flip side of bullying awareness is creating victim consciousness, which tends to rob people of their perceived ability to stand up for themselves or solve problems on their own. I suggest working with him on those 2 things.

  William (Evanston, IL) - 2:17 PM:
Are there any good apps or resources that parents can use to monitor their children’s online behavior to make sure everything is okay?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
No. There are ways to read text messages or social media posts but kids tend to experience this monitoring as extremely intrusive and it may be more difficult for them then online bullying or other negative aspects of the online experience. It is better to work on developing a trusting relationship so that your child can come to you when they have negative experiences.

  Viv (Chicago, IL) - 2:20 PM:
Are there some common signs in children who become suicidal as a result of bullying?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
The main thing to look for is a change in functioning, particularly a sudden one: More isolate, irritable or sullen, grades falling, less interest to see friends or do things for fun, less interest in sports or other previously engaging activities. Of course, statements of sadness or suicidality should be taken seriously.

  John (Wilmette, IL) - 2:25 PM:
Statistically, is there anything that shows whether girls or boys are more likely to face bullying and participate in it?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
For face-to-face bullying, boys are more likely to be bullies. It is relatively equal who is a bully victim, but there is evidence that boys do not have negative psychological consequences until the bullying is repeated whereas girls may have consequences from a single episode. I am not aware of data for cyberbullying, but I expect that the bullies would be more equal male to female.

  Lori (Wheeling, IL) - 2:30 PM:
I have a teenage daughter, and though we don’t fight often, I feel like she doesn’t tell me much about what’s going on at school – is there a good way to start a conversation to find out if anything might be wrong?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
The main issue is how you respond when you do find out something is wrong: Do you listen and allow her to vent, or do you have your own emotional response or try to quickly offer advice? This is the hard part.

  Jen (Evanston, IL) - 2:35 PM:
I’m worried that my daughter is picking up bully-like behavior from her friends in dance class – they like to be a clique, and I have heard them talk and laugh about other students. Should I be worried about her behavior?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
This does not sound severe, but I suggest redirecting, just as you would if she had a different negative behavior.

  Eliza (IL) - 2:38 PM:
Can constant bullying cause something kind of like PTSD? My son used to get picked on when he was younger (he was a slow learner), and I feel like he gets really nervous and withdrawn now when he’s with a large group of kids.
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Unfortunately, yes. Studies show that psychological consequences of bullying may remain for years after the bullying stopped. You may consider a mental health evaluation if that has not yet been done.

  Virginia (Chicago, IL) - 2:40 PM:
Do thoughts that could lead to suicide usually appear at a certain age for children/teens?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Thoughts may appear as early as ages 5 and 6, but young children have little idea what suicide means and the incidence of actual suicide is rare in children. Adolescent suicide, of course, is a major problem, but this is much more common among older teens compared to younger teens.

  Mary (Skokie, IL) - 2:45 PM:
Can problems at home, like a rough divorce, lead kids to bully?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Yes. Bullying may be an attempt to deal with an unrelated stressful situation by turning passive into active. Events in a rough divorce may also provide modeling to the child on how or that it is okay to bully.

  Becky (Evanston, IL) - 2:49 PM:
My daughter will sometimes say things when she’s angry like “I should just kill myself”, and I can’t tell if she’s having serious thoughts or not – who can I go to for some guidance?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
That kind of statement when angry is considered suicidality, but at a very low level. I'm not sure that I would respond to that alone, but if there are other indicators of depression, wanting to die, impaired functioning, etc., then I suggest a mental health evaluation.

  Alex (IL) - 2:52 PM:
How can I tell if the roughhousing between my children is playing or when it is bullying? They're all pretty close in age.
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Look for ganging up, particularly if the victims are consistent. You may also have indication based on some participants clearly not having fun with it.

  Pat (Glenview, IL) - 2:55 PM:
Do teens react to bullying differently than kids? Would I have to take different steps with my elementary aged son than I would with my high schoolers?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
The reaction is similar, but the bullying may be more sophisticated or subtle with growing older.

Kathryn (Moderator) - 3:00 PM:
This will be the end of our chat. Thank you for your questions. For more information on bullying and adolescent psychology, or to speak with a specialist like Dr. Shain, you can contact the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Services.
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